Driver. That is all we know him as. Give him a time and a place and he'll give you five minutes to do whatever you need to do. Be back in the car within the five minute window, and you have yourself a driver. By day he works as a movie stuntman flipping cop cars and filming chase scenes. Eventually Driver becomes smitten with Irene, a fellow resident in his apartment complex. All seems to be going well, except for one small detail...her husband who just got out of jail. Driver's life takes a turn for the complex when Irene's recently released husband, Standard, gets caught up in a job he must do in order to pay his debt to some gangsters. If the debt doesn't get paid, they will soon come after Irene and her son. Enter Driver. Determined to keep the woman he loves safe, Driver agrees to help Standard with his heist...then all hell breaks loose.
I'll keep this spoiler free so that is all I'll say about the story in this review. But now I can talk about all the things that made this movie incredible. I'll start with the overall direction. Nicolas Winding Refn takes the director's seat for Drive and what he brings to the table is absolutely incredible. The movie is paced so methodically it keeps you on the edge of your seat from the get go. Although the violence is intermittent, when it hits, it hits hard. Most of the first half of the movie is the establishment of Driver's relationship with Irene but you can't help but feel like something terrible is constantly looming around the corner.
A haunting soundtrack is, what I believe, will stick with me the longest from Drive. Composed mostly by Cliff Martinez, the ambient tracks honestly leave me at a loss for words to describe how much they enhance the tension. It's almost as if these dark tones are being set throughout the entire film and just when something is about to happen, the theater becomes deafeningly quiet. Every gun shot rang through our theater, each curse hung in the air and the tension, this constant uneasiness throughout the film is honestly unlike anything I've felt in a long time. Refn's direction blends so perfectly with the music, at times artistic and shockingly unique and at others clean cut and precise. This is one of those rare films where each piece of the puzzle ended up meshing perfectly with the others to create a real masterpiece.
Ryan Gosling is scary good with his role. It's a testament to how truly talented Gosling is that even while he is currently igniting Hollywood as the hottest thing since whatever the last hottest thing was, he can take the time to do a smaller film like Drive and completely, utterly immerse himself in the role. I've never seen him play a role quite like this and his disturbingly quiet character who at times shows such compassion to Irene and at other times such unrelenting, brutal violence to those who threaten her is astonishing to watch. It was one of those performances where 5 minutes into the film you're no longer watching Ryan Gosling, you're watching Driver. The supporting cast was also excellent throughout. Carey Mulligan made Irene feel so real, not Hollywood beautiful or too good to be true, but a girl worth fighting for. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston offered what little comic relief there was to be found in the movie as Shannon, Driver's employer and really only confidant in the film. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman were both in true form as top gangsters concerned with one thing, money. When the entire cast is so committed to a film, it makes it an experience that the audience can get that much more involved in.
There's not much more I think I need to say about Drive. I would say that if you don't do well with violence, like the kind of violence where peoples' heads get blown off, you might want to avoid it. But Drive is truly an immersive experience where there are honestly no weak points to be found. It's the kind of movie that people who are looking for a Fast and Furious type film will be disappointed by. But it's also the kind of film that grabs you from the beginning and refuses to let go until the credits role. Drive is my favorite movie of the year so far and I hope it gets the recognition and adoration it deserves.
My Rating: A